Publishers try to dispel the myth that they books are successful because of the money they put into marketing by asking the question: If publishers had the power to make a book a bestseller, don’t you think they would do that with every book? While their point is valid, it is hardly so simple. It really comes down to one of those chicken or the egg questions. Is a book popular because the publisher convinces people they should buy it or does the publisher choose to invest in the book because they have the vision to see that people will like the book?
To think that the only reason that latest book we’ve written isn’t selling like hotcakes is because a publisher hasn’t given it a chance is naïve. But it is just as naïve to think that publishers have some special vision that allows them to find the books that will sell well and the money they throw at some books is not the primary reason for their success. Just because we can’t throw money at all books and make them bestsellers doesn’t mean that we can’t throw money as some books and make them more successful than they really ought to be, given the quality of the story.
While driving around town the other day, I noticed a sign next to the side of the road. It was on a wooden stake it and advertised a barbershop in the area. These types of signs are actually illegal, but people go around at night, when they don’t think they’ll get caught and hammer these things in the ground. They may advertise anything from lawn mowing services to tax preparation services to barbershops. While the worst thing that might happen if you were to visit this “Great Barbershop behind Black-Eyed Pea” is that you would get a terrible hair cut, we somehow question the creditability of the business. Had the owner paid for a billboard rather than hammering a stake in the ground, our opinion of the business would be improved, even though we know nothing other than what the owner has told us. It is somewhat like that with books also.
But there is another side. Near where I work, there is an Asian buffet. The exterior of their building isn’t that much to look at. For that matter, the interior isn’t either. As far as I know, they don’t advertise. Their location isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. You probably wouldn’t see them unless you happened to be patronizing one of the more visible eating places in the same parking lot. They have a very simple sign. But every time I’ve been in there they have been busy. They’re the type of business that you would expect to find on one of those signs next to the road, but people have taken the risk and have been glad they did.
At the end of the day, there are books that will never receive the blessing of a major publisher and there are those that will. There are books that are worth publishing and there are those that aren’t. These are not equal sets. Major publishers publish books that should be published and books that shouldn’t be published. They also overlook books that should be published. As authors, we aren’t concerned with that at a high level but at the level of one book or the few books that we will write. There’s really no way of knowing where our books fall. We hope they are good books that other people will recognize as such, but even if we have many people who read our work we will question if they will someday wake up and realize that they have been duped. Or if our work isn’t recognized as good, we will question whether it is because it really isn’t good or whether people just don’t see it for what it is. All we can do is to do the best we can and not let the praise of others concern us. If we are saying what we intend to say with our writing, that is all that matters.